America is considered the world’s “melting pot” on a national level, but I’ve been noticing something that I hadn’t paid too much attention to before. When I see families in public or when I would see my friends’ families, they’re all the same race or are from them same culture. I never saw my dad being a very brown Mexican-American while my mom is white as something that was noteworthy. Sometimes, I forgot that were anything other than my parents. It wasn’t as if I was blind or dumb, I knew my dad and my mom weren’t the same color and culture-wise but I saw it as a normal thing. It had been and would continue to be the way I saw my parents. The cultural difference would always be there.
I remember a few instances in which being half-Mexican came up outside of the people close to me, where it would evidently mean something. It was a bright a day and the sun hovered over the school’s playground. Once the recess time was up we all slumped over to our teachers. My teacher stared down at me so I gazed back up at her. Next came something that I’ve expected white women to say after I’d been in the sun for around an hour.
“I wish I tanned as quickly as you.”
At the time, I said nothing, but my mind showed its attitude with the thought: “Have you tried being half-Mexican?” I just found this comment exhausting because they only wanted the aesthetic but I couldn’t imagine that they wanted any other aspect of being half-Mexican.
There was another time when I was younger, in Middle School, I think, that other cultural differences came to the surface. Oddly enough, it had never occurred to me that the families surrounding us didn’t speak or understand even a little Spanish. In my house, we didn’t, and still don’t, speak it fluently. It usually just comes out with the off-hand word or phrase. This is because my dad doesn’t have time to teach us (“us” being my three siblings and I) and being in a small town dominated by a white non-Spanish-speaking population has left him out of practice. The incident still amazes me with the capacity in which I was oblivious to the cultural environment.
I had overheard some people talking about one of the most basic word in the Spanish vocabulary, in my opinion, and how they hadn’t known it before. I was extremely confused at the time. The word, like many Spanish words, had probably been on T.V. How had they not noticed it? But it had never crossed my mind that fully-white people who weren’t Spaniards didn’t feel the need to know Spanish. Meanwhile, I had half of my family that I wanted to understand. As I got older and we all started to plan for the future, I saw more of these white Americans learning learning Spanish in order to become successful in any job they take. To them, it was about work; to me, it was about family and friends.
My family also present problems of their own. Despite how many similarities I see between both sides, they act as if they are inherently polar opposites. My mom’s side, the white side, is adamant about about their racial superiority. They have always talked about other races in derogatory ways, especially before my mom met my dad. I have heard the stories since I was able to comprehend what racism was. Although she had been raised in this sort of environment, my mom still had friends of color and ended up marrying a Mexican man.
Out of that marriage came my siblings and I. The reaction from my mom’s side was as could have been expected. They would insist that my dad was not like other Mexicans, as if there was something wrong with other Mexicans, as if other Mexicans were all the same. With my siblings and I, they wanted to ignore our Mexican heritage. They didn’t try to keep us out of their house but they did try to keep parts of us out. This included us not being allowed to speak Spanish while we were visiting them.
On the other hand, my dad’s side fully acknowledges and accepts that we belong to both cultures. They wish that we were more connected to Mexican culture, as do we, sometimes asking my father why he hadn’t taught us more Spanish. I suspect that us visiting them could be one of the ways he was trying to do that. They carried the culture far better than my father could alone.
Their reactions to us were pretty miniscule compared to how they reacted to those we started romantic relationships with. I would say that our choices in who we date would be the turning point for our cultural experiences. My brother and I aren’t in relationships so this comes from observing the reactions to my sisters’ individual relationships. One of whom is with a fully Mexican man who takes their kids to see his family and teaches them more Spanish along with Mexican traditions. The other is married to a black Jewish man who has kept their kids so well-attached to the culture that one of them is fluent in Pig Latin (which I had no idea was related to Jewish culture, but it’s my older niece who know them better who told me this, so who am I to argue?) Knowing this, one of the last things I remember my mother’s dad saying directly to my mom before he died was, “your family is breeding out all the white.” As far as I’m concerned, he didn’t deserve us and we deserved better.
Overall, the message I want you to take away, if you are only one race, is that being mixed race come with its own complications that you may not have thought about. And if you’re mixed, I hope that you find some security in your identity and realize you don’t have to choose a side. Those parts make a whole you, and you are what matters here.